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The slow cooker is the nearest thing to having your own personal chef when you consider that a tasty meal is perfectly cooked just in time for you and your family coming through the door on a cold, dark evening after a long day.  It is useful for weight loss as it eliminates the temptation to pick at the wrong things while preparing a meal. Even the smell of a tasty soup, stew or casserole makes a huge difference in how much you look forward to dinner as the long cooking time brings out the flavour in the mix of ingredients. There is less preparation and less clean up and it uses less electricity than an oven. Slow cookers are cheap to buy (€20 – €60), economical to use and offer a healthy, low fat method of cooking.

Tips for using your slow cooker:

1. The cooker should be filled to between half and three quarters capacity, cooking too much or too little will affect cooking time, food quality and general safety.

2. Vegetables should be placed first, especially root vegetables, followed by the meat or poultry on top. Soft vegetables such as mushrooms or tomatoes should be added during the last 45 minutes of cooking time.

3. Try to remove the lid as little as possible as a few minutes of cooking time is lost each time. Slow cookers are designed to do their own thing so you don’t need to keep checking the contents. Experts suggest that the best setting is ‘LOW’ as most dishes really benefit from a slow, gentle cook to really tenderize and bring out the natural flavours. This is convenient as you can go out for the day, knowing that 7 or 8 hours later the meal will be ready.  If using a standard recipe any liquid ingredients should be reduced by a third, just enough to cover the ingredients.

4. If you’re short on time in the morning, prepare vegetables the night before and leave in the fridge. Take them out first thing in the morning and leave at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before placing in cooker. There is no need to add any oil as there’s enough moisture, however there is no drainage for fat so try to use lean cuts or cut off any visible fat beforehand.

5. Ideally you want to choose recipes that have minimum pre-preparation. Some people prefer to brown meat or cook onions before but this is not essential, just personal preference.

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